Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr Chloe Okuno
prd Roy Lee, Steven Schneider, Derek Dauchy, Mason Novick, John Finemore
with Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Madalina Anea, Gabriela Butuc, Florian Ghimpu, Alexandru Ion, Cristina Deleanu, Daniel Nuta, Bogdan Farcas, Ioana Abur, Flaviu Crisan
release US 3.Jun.22,
UK Jun.22 slf
22/Romania Focus 1h31

monroe glusman gorman
Sundance london film fest

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Writer-director Chloe Okuno creates a superbly unsettling atmosphere in this quietly suspenseful thriller about an American in Romania. The film knowingly plays on the feeling of being a foreigner unable to communicate in an unknown place, while generating scares by twisting a range of cinematic cliches in intriguing directions. It's a shame there's not much more to the film, but it definitely gets our hearts pumping a bit faster.
After Julia (Monroe) moves to Bucharest with her half-Romanian husband Francis (Glusman), she feels out of sorts because she's only just begun to learn the language. But as she explores the city, she begins to think that a neighbour (Gorman) is watching her far too closely. So she starts stalking him. But the busy Francis seems dismissive of her gnawing fear. So Julia befriends the colourful Irina (Anea) in the flat next door. Both are unnerved that there's a serial killer called the Spider on the loose, and that a neighbour is his latest victim.
Almost everything is seen through Julia's perspective, so it's easy to identify with her thought processes. She may overreact, but everything around her feels creepy, and coincidences don't ease her mind. Meanwhile, Okuno cranks things up so much that it's not terribly difficult to see why both Francis and a local cop (Ghimpu) struggle to believe Julia's wild theories. But as Irina says, it's better to make a fuss than end up shouting, “I told you so,” as your throat is cut.

Monroe anchors the film superbly, generating a vivid sense of paranoia that's based on some properly nightmarish goings on. And she cleverly depicts Julia's deepening certainty even in the face of logical explanations. Even when the script tries to simplify it, her chemistry with Glusman's hapless Francis is strongly layered. Anea adds some welcome sassy sexuality as Irina, while Gorman again puts his distinct physicality to fine use, scary but perhaps not a killer.

That said, there's never much of a question where this is heading, simply because the plot follows the usual horror movie formula. So we wait to see who will need to die a hideous death in order to trigger the requisite grisly finale. Thankfully, Julia's isolated frustration is easy to sympathise with, which helps us feel each of her conflicting emotions. And the cast and crew are well up to the challenge, making the most of even the cheapest scares in order to send chills down our spines.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Jun.22 slf

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall